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The Enchanted Storks

A Tale of Bagdad

Told by Aaron Shepard

Reader’s Theater Edition #6

Adapted for reader’s theater (or readers theatre) by the author, from his picture book published by Clarion, New York, 1995

For more reader’s theater, visit Aaron Shepard’s RT Page at www.aaronshep.com.

Story copyright © 1995 Aaron Shepard. Script copyright © 1995, 2002 Aaron Shepard. Scripts in this series are free and may be copied, shared, and performed for any noncommercial purpose, except the texts may not be posted publicly without permission.

PREVIEW: The Calif and his Vizier try a spell that changes them into storks, then find they can’t change back.

GENRE: Fairy tales, folktales
CULTURE: Iraqi, Middle Eastern
THEME: Recklessness
READERS: 13 or more
LENGTH: 14 minutes

ROLES: Narrators 1–4, Calif, Vizier, Khadur, Omar, Princess, Magicians (4), (Guards)

NOTES: This story began as an original fairy tale by the 19th‑century German author Wilhelm Hauff in his book The Caravan—but it was so popular that it came to be told by storytellers in the Middle East itself. This retelling is based on both original and retold versions. For best effect, place NARRATORS 1 and 2 at far left, and 3 and 4 at far right, as seen from the audience. To reduce the number of roles, the NARRATORS can double as the MAGICIANS. Calif is pronounced “KAY‑lif.” Vizier, a prime minister, is pronounced “viz‑EER.” Casalavair is pronounced “ka‑SAH-lah‑VAIR.” Omar is pronounced “O‑mar.” Khadur is pronounced “kah‑DOOR,” rhyming with “tour.” Allah, the Arabic word for “God,” is pronounced “AH‑LAH.”

All special features are at www.aaronshep.com/extras.

Book cover: Folktales on StageNARRATOR 1:  If favor

NARRATOR 2:  now

NARRATOR 3:  should greet

NARRATOR 4:  our story,

NARRATOR 1:  Allah

NARRATOR 2:  must

NARRATOR 3:  receive

NARRATOR 4:  the glory.

NARRATOR 1:  Once, in the great and glorious city of Bagdad, there was a Calif—Commander of the Faithful and ruler of all Islam.

NARRATOR 4:  The people of Bagdad loved their ruler, yet one thing mystified them. All who came before him were amazed by his intimate knowledge of their daily lives.

NARRATOR 2:  “The Calif has a thousand eyes,” muttered some, glancing behind them for spies. But the Calif’s real secret was this:

NARRATOR 3:  Each afternoon, he and his trusted Vizier, Ali ben Manzar, would disguise themselves as merchants and slip through a hidden door in the palace wall. Then they would roam the bazaars of the city, listening to the talk and gossip of the day.

NARRATOR 1:  One afternoon, as the Calif and his Vizier made their way through the market, an old and wizened man thrust one of his wares under the Calif’s nose.

CALIF:  What a lovely snuffbox! Look, Ali ben Manzar. See the intricate carving and jeweled inlay. Peddler, what will you ask for it?

KHADUR:  (wheezing) Just one gold coin.

NARRATOR 4:  The Calif gave him two, took the box, and walked on.

NARRATOR 2:  Reaching the edge of the city, the Calif and his Vizier strolled through the parks and orchards beyond.

NARRATOR 3:  At last they stopped to rest by a quiet lake.

CALIF:  I wonder if my new box holds any snuff.

NARRATOR 1:  The Calif opened the tiny box and found it filled with the pungent powder.

CALIF:  But what is this?

NARRATOR 4:  He pulled a piece of parchment from the underside of the lid.

NARRATOR 2:  The Vizier craned his neck to see.

VIZIER:  What does it say, Glorious Lord?

CALIF:  (reading)

A sniff of snuff, for wings to soar.

Casalavair for hands once more.

(to VIZIER) Why, I believe the snuff is magic!

NARRATOR 3:  He looked longingly at the sky.

CALIF:  I have always wanted to see my city from the air.

VIZIER:  Perhaps we should be cautious. What if the charm fails to change us back?

CALIF:  If the snuff works, then surely the magic word will too. Come, let us try our luck!

NARRATOR 1:  He held out the box, and each took a pinch of snuff. Then together they inhaled the powder.

NARRATOR 4:  A flurry of wings, beaks, and feathers—and there in place of the Calif and his Vizier stood two storks.

CALIF:  Wonderful!

NARRATOR 2:  . . . the Calif said, snapping and clattering his beak—for that is how storks talk.

NARRATOR 3:  A human would have heard only

CALIF:  Calap! Calap!

NARRATOR 3:  But since both the Calif and his Vizier were now birds, Ali ben Manzar understood perfectly.

VIZIER:  Calap! Calap! Quite amazing!

CALIF:  Calap! Calap! Let us test our wings!

NARRATOR 1:  The two storks rose into the air, circling higher and higher. Spread below were meadows, ornamental gardens, orchards, and fields of crops.

NARRATOR 4:  The great river Tigris flowed slowly across the plain, sprouting canals along its length. And basking on the banks of the river was Bagdad, capital of all Islam, City of Peace.

CALIF:  (calling to VIZIER) Breathtaking, is it not? Come, let us fly over the city.

NARRATOR 2:  Soon they soared above the streets, canals, bridges, and clay-brick buildings of Bagdad.

NARRATOR 3:  In courtyard and bazaar, people bought and sold, worked and rested, fought and prayed, stole and chased, kissed and parted, laughed and wept.

CALIF:  Truly, a stork knows more of this city than the Calif himself.

NARRATOR 1:  As evening drew near, the Vizier called,

VIZIER:  Glorious Lord, we had best return to the palace.

NARRATOR 4:  Back they flew to the lake and landed by the snuffbox. The Calif once more read the parchment, then cried,

CALIF:  Casalavair!

NARRATOR 2:  And there stood—two storks.

CALIF:  (in alarm) Casalavair! (growing desperate) Casalavair! Casalavair!

NARRATOR 3:  But storks they remained.

CALIF:  (terrified) Ali ben Manzar, you try it!

VIZIER:  (equally terrified) Casalavair! Casalavair!

CALIF & VIZIER:  (keep repeating beneath NARRATOR, below; not in unison) Casalavair! Casalavair!

NARRATOR 1:  (over CALIF and VIZIER, above) But no matter how they called and hopped and flapped their wings, nothing changed.

NARRATOR 4:  At last they stood exhausted.

VIZIER:  It seems some enemy has lured us into this enchantment.

CALIF:  But what can we do?

VIZIER:  I know of nothing. Without the proper word to break the spell, we may never regain our true forms.

NARRATOR 2:  The sun dipped into the lake as the two storks stood lost in thought. Finally the Calif said,

CALIF:  Stork or not, my stomach aches for food. What are we to eat?

VIZIER:  Why, Glorious Lord, we must eat what every stork eats! Fish and mice, frogs and toads, snakes and eels, snails and slugs, worms and grubs.

NARRATOR 3:  So the storks poked their beaks among rushes at the lake edge and into holes along the bank. When they had eaten as much as they could bear, each stood on one leg, crossed the other leg against it, hid his beak among his breast feathers, and slept.

* * *

NARRATOR 1:  The next morning, they hid the snuffbox and flew to the palace. From high on a turret they watched the frantic scene within the palace walls. Soldiers, courtiers, and servants rushed about in search of the Calif and the Vizier—a search the storks knew too well was in vain.

VIZIER:  (looking the other way) Look, Glorious Lord! A caravan approaches!

NARRATOR 4:  Through the streets of Bagdad came a magnificent procession of horsemen, camel riders, and servants on foot. At its head rode a horseman in regal dress.

CALIF:  By the beard of the Prophet! It is my brother Omar! He has long coveted my throne.

NARRATOR 2:  The caravan reached the gate, and the horseman called to the guards.

OMAR:  I am Omar, brother to the Calif. I have learned by secret means that the Calif is missing and will not return. As true successor of the Prophet Mohammed, I have come to take my brother’s place as Commander of the Faithful, ruler of all Islam.

CALIF:  (to the guards) Do not open the gate!

NARRATOR 3:  But all that was heard from the Calif by the startled people below was

CALIF:  Calap! Calap! (keep repeating beneath NARRATOR, below)

NARRATOR 3:  (over CALIF, above) And when they looked up, all they saw was two storks—one of them hopping madly, flapping its wings, and clattering its beak.

OMAR:  (to the guards) You see? Even the storks welcome me. Open the gate!

NARRATOR 1:  The gate opened, and Omar rode through in triumph.

NARRATOR 4:  High on the turret, the Calif stood silent and still.

VIZIER:  (gently) Glorious Lord, we can do nothing here. Let us fly far from the city. In solitude we may find the strength to bear our fate.

NARRATOR 2:  The two soared away, beyond the city and the plains, to a lonely forest in the foothills of the great mountains.

NARRATOR 3:  There they began their new life. They dined on tree toads and fish, and tried not to speak of Bagdad or the affairs of a Calif.

NARRATOR 1:  One afternoon, the storks wandered into a different part of the forest.

CALIF:  How gloomy and silent it is here. Not even a rustle of leaves.

NARRATOR 4:  Just then, a quick tap-tap-tap made them jump. They turned to see a woodpecker hunting for worms in the bark of a tree.

NARRATOR 2:  To their amazement, tears flowed from the woodpecker’s eyes.

CALIF:  Good woodpecker, why do you weep?

PRINCESS:  (through her tears) Why should I not? You were born a bird and have known no other life, but I am a princess. The evil sorcerer Khadur threw this spell upon me, for I would not marry him. And a bird I must remain till another man asks me to wed. (sniffs) Imagine, a man proposing to a bird! Do you see now why I weep?

CALIF:  (thoughtfully) I do. But how did you come to this forest? Is the sorcerer himself hereabouts?

NARRATOR 3:  The woodpecker pointed with her beak.

PRINCESS:  There is a clearing nearby. He meets there every night with his magicians.

CALIF:  (aside to VIZIER) Come, Ali ben Manzar. We may find a way to help our little friend—and perhaps ourselves as well.

NARRATOR 1:  Making their way through the thick forest, the Calif and his Vizier reached a wide, rocky circle where no plant grew.

NARRATOR 4:  They hid themselves in the bushes at its edge and waited for the gathering dark.

NARRATOR 2:  As the moon rose and cast its light into the clearing, four cloaked men entered the circle by different paths. They built a fire on a tall, flat rock in the very center and sat cross-legged around it.

NARRATOR 3:  Then the flames leaped, and a fifth cloaked figure stood among them. The magicians touched their heads to the ground.

MAGICIANS:  Hail, Khadur, greatest of sorcerers!

CALIF:  (gasps) By the beard of the Prophet! It is the peddler who sold us the box!

NARRATOR 1:  Before the storks could recover from this surprise, there was another. With a clatter of hooves, into the clearing rode the Calif’s brother, Omar!

OMAR:  Greetings, sorcerer.

KHADUR:  (wheezing) Greetings, Glorious Lord. And how do you fare in the city of Bagdad?

OMAR:  Excellently. The people long for their old ruler, but they learn to fear me and obey. As for you, sorcerer, you have well earned your reward.

NARRATOR 4:  He threw Khadur a bulging pouch, which clinked as the sorcerer caught it.

OMAR:  But you have not yet told me—how did you get rid of my brother?

KHADUR:  (wheezes with laughter) Nothing easier, Glorious Lord. I disguised myself as a peddler and sold him a box of magic snuff. Your brother and his dolt of a Vizier changed themselves most obligingly into storks! I even provided the word of disenchantment—or nearly so.

OMAR:  What do you mean?

KHADUR:  I switched two letters. I wrote Casalavair instead of Calasavair. (wheezes with laughter)

NARRATOR 2:  The sorcerer laughed till he choked.

OMAR:  A true master! I will have need of your services again.

NARRATOR 3:  He spurred his horse and raced from the clearing.

KHADUR:  (to MAGICIANS) Now, to work! We have spells to prepare.

CALIF:  There will be no spells tonight!

NARRATOR 1:  All that the men heard was

CALIF:  Calap! Calap!

NARRATOR 1:  . . . but two storks were suddenly upon them, pummeling them with strong wings, pecking them with sharp beaks.

KHADUR:  It’s the Calif and the Vizier!

NARRATOR 4:  Khadur fled from the clearing, his magicians close behind.

VIZIER:  Should we not follow, Glorious Lord?

CALIF:  No, Ali ben Manzar. We have spells to undo.

NARRATOR 2:  Even as he spoke, the woodpecker alighted beside them.

PRINCESS:  (anxiously) What was that noise?

CALIF:  You shall know presently, dear Princess.

NARRATOR 3:  Then drawing an anxious breath, he cried,

CALIF:  Calasavair!

NARRATOR 1:  A flurry of wings, beaks, and feathers—and there in place of two storks stood the Calif and his Vizier.

NARRATOR 4:  The Calif turned to the astonished woodpecker.

CALIF:  Princess, will you honor me by becoming my wife?

NARRATOR 2:  Another flurry of feathers,

NARRATOR 3:  and there stood a young woman of slender figure and dancing eyes.

PRINCESS:  (smiling shyly) The honor will be mine. (offers CALIF her hand)

CALIF:  (takes it happily)

* * *

NARRATOR 1:  The next day, they borrowed horses at a nearby village and rode into Bagdad. By the time they reached the palace, a joyous crowd had gathered behind them.

CALIF:  (to the guards) Open the gate!

NARRATOR 4:  The gate flew open just as Omar appeared in the palace yard.

NARRATOR 2:  When Omar saw the Calif, he turned the color of parchment.

CALIF:  (to the guards) Seize him!

NARRATOR 3:  The guards dragged Omar before the Calif.

OMAR:  (pleading) Brother, spare my life!

CALIF:  For your treason, I should behead you. But instead I will banish you by ship to the farthest end of the earth. And by the beard of the Prophet, on the voyage you will eat nothing but toads and snails!

* * *

NARRATOR 1:  And so the Calif regained his throne, and gained a lovely wife besides.

NARRATOR 4:  And if he seemed to know even more about his people than before, no one guessed how.

NARRATOR 2:  How would they?

NARRATOR 3:  For few even noticed the pair of storks that soared on many an afternoon above the streets of Bagdad.

NARRATOR 1:  The Calif

NARRATOR 2:  saw

NARRATOR 3:  much more

NARRATOR 4:  than we,

NARRATOR 1:  but how much

NARRATOR 2:  more

NARRATOR 3:  does Allah

NARRATOR 4:  see.

All special features are at www.aaronshep.com/extras.

Book cover: The Enchanted Storks
Read the book!

The Enchanted Storks
A Tale of Bagdad
Told by Aaron Shepard
Illustrated by Alisher Dianov

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